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Johnnie Ray

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Biography

John Alvin Ray (January 10, 1927 – February 24, 1990) was an American singer, songwriter, and pianist. Popular for most of the 1950s, Ray has been cited by critics as a major precursor of what would become rock and roll, for his jazz and blues-influenced music and his animated stage persona.

Ray was born in Hopewell, Oregon, spending part of his childhood on a farm, eventually moving to Portland, Oregon. Ray was of Native American origin; his great-grandmother was a full-blooded Native American and his great-grandfather was Oregon pioneer George Kirby Gay of Berkeley, Gloucestershire, England. He became deaf in his right ear at age 13 after an accident during a Boy Scout event. It was his participation in the “blanket toss,” a sort of variation of the trampoline, that traumatized the youngster’s inner ear. Ray later performed wearing a hearing aid. Surgery performed in New York in 1958 left him almost completely deaf in both ears, although hearing aids helped his condition.

Career

Ray first attracted attention while performing at the Flame Showbar in Detroit, Michigan, an R&B nightclub. Inspired by rhythm singers like Kay Starr, LaVern Baker and Ivory Joe Hunter, Ray developed a unique rhythm based style, described as alternating between pre-rock R&B and a more conventional classic pop approach.

His first record, the self-penned R&B number for OKeh Records, “Whiskey and Gin”, was a minor hit in 1951. The following year he dominated the charts with the double-sided hit single of “Cry” and “The Little White Cloud That Cried”. Selling over two million copies of the 45 single, Ray’s delivery struck a chord with teenagers and he quickly became a teen idol.

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